Jeremie Ryder, Conservator of the Guinness Collection at the Morris Museum recently passed this fascinating link on to me with some information. The video shows a fairly complex automaton performing the classic cups and balls magic routine. What makes this remarkable is that it is powered by sand and made largely of paper. Ryder goes on to explain it's other interesting aspects:
...an unusual and somewhat complex sand toy, which incorporates a program barrel -- the first I think I've seen like this. There is no name associated with it, but I'd guess at possibly French origin, circa 1860-90. There's hardly any solid research or articles about the history, makers, or countries of origin. One of the main high-end sellers of these was at the Palais Royal in Paris, Pierre Landras, a toy merchant, operating around the 1830's to 50's period.
He goes on to note that this Conjurer is reminiscent of a clockwork-driven automaton because there is more friction involved in moving the multiple levers needed to read the barrel, actuate the objects, as well as the figure's arms and head. A similar example is depicted in an old book on magic effects (shown below).
The book is a classic on stage illusions performed by Robert-Houdin, Bautier de Kolta, Maskelyne, and others. Containing over 400 illustrations, it features detailed descriptions of techniques of fire eaters, sword swallowers, jugglers, acrobats. Most interesting to readers of this blog would be the sections on ancient magic and automata.
Here is where you can get Magic: Stage Illusions, Special Effects and Trick Photography.